Superseding Indictment Returned in Bp Fund and Disaster Fraud
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Henry Gutierrez, Postal Inspector in Charge, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Miami Field Office, and David Wickersham, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations, Dallas Region, announced that Joseph Harvey and Anja Karin Kannell, most recently of Lighthouse Point, Florida, were arraigned today in U.S. Magistrate Court in Miami on a 41-count superseding indictment in for their involvement in a series of disaster-related fraudulent claims schemes, including the largest financial loss case to date arising from claims filed in connection with the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon pollution incident in the Gulf of Mexico.
The superseding indictment, filed yesterday, charges mail fraud, wire fraud, access device fraud, and aggravated identity theft, all in connection with fraudulent claims filed by the two defendants for purported lost income and harm resulting from the oil spill, hurricanes, and other natural disasters dating back to 2008, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1341, 1343, 1029(a)(2) and (b)(1), 1028A(a)(1) and (c)(5), and 2.
Harvey and Kannell were previously ordered detained pending trial as risks of flight. U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King will preside over the trial of this matter, which is scheduled for May 2012, in Miami. If convicted, the defendants face possible statutory maximum terms of imprisonment of up to twenty years each on the 14 counts of mail fraud and on each of the 16 counts and 13 counts, respectively, of the wire fraud charges against Harvey and Kannell. A term of up to 10 years’ imprisonment may be imposed on each of the 7 counts of access device fraud in which they are named. Additionally, they each face mandatory consecutive terms of imprisonment of up to 2 years on each of the 4 counts of aggravated identity theft.
According to the allegations in the superseding indictment and statements made in Court, in June 2010, BP established the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) to administer, mediate, and settle certain claims of individuals and businesses for costs, damages, and other losses incurred as a result of oil discharges due to the April 20, 2010 explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that had been drilling an exploration well. In August 2010, the GCCF began receiving and processing such claims for costs, damages, and other losses incurred as a result of the Deepwater Horizon incident, paying the claims from a $20 billion Trust Fund established for that purpose.
The superseding indictment further alleges that Harvey and Kannell filed fraudulent claims against the fund, under thirty-four assumed identities from August 2010 through January 2011. The defendants used the actual names and social security numbers of individuals residing in Florida, but submitted addresses located in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle. According to statements in court, payments were issued to the defendants through accounts established under fictitious names in San Antonio, Texas. The scheme was carried out through mailings and through the use of the internet. In this way, Harvey and Kannell filed claims seeking more than $1 million, and succeeded in causing approximately $340,000 to be paid into the accounts in Texas. The defendants then withdrew the funds using an ATM card issued in the fictitious account holder’s name at ATM machines throughout South Florida, and by causing wire transfers to be made of large amounts to rent luxury homes, and purchase high-end vehicles and boats. The superseding indictment further alleges that the defendants used unauthorized access devices consisting of the unique GCCF Claim numbers assigned to their fictitious claims. Harvey and Kannell are also charged in the superseding indictment with possessing and using without lawful authority the social security numbers of three individuals in December 2010.
The superseding indictment expanded the charges against Harvey and Kannell to include mail and wire fraud schemes involving the disaster relief effort in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008. The superseding indictment alleges they filed approximately 47 fraudulent claims, using the personal information of identity theft victims, against the Louisiana Workforce Commission, which was administering the Disaster Unemployment Assistance program, on behalf of the U.S. Department of Labor and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Harvey and Kannell are further charged with filing multiple fraudulent claims against FEMA, asserting that they suffered losses and injuries, and were qualified for disaster assistance as a result of severe storms, tornadoes, and flooding in Mississippi in April and May 2011.
Additionally, in similar schemes, Harvey and Kannell are charged with filing approximately 76 fraudulent claims for benefits against the employment security offices of North Dakota and New York State, which administered Disaster Unemployment Assistance programs funded by FEMA to offset the impact of the Valentine’s Day 2011 storm that caused severe flooding in Minot and Bismark, North Dakota, and the impact of Tropical Storm Irene on certain counties in New York State in August 2011.
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.
An indictment is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.